Celebrating My Difference, By Johanna Rossell

Johanna familyI grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. As a typical person that grows up in the capital of a Latino-American country, I, not only went to College in Caracas, but also lived at my mom’s home, same apartment, until I was 24 years old. Little did I know that after that, my life was going to change forever and I was going to live in different cities all over the world (Argentina, Chile, Switzerland and the US), learning new cultures, making new friends, building a life “on the go.”   Since the day I left Venezuela, change and adaptation, while still just being “me” has been my priority.

Being an eternal foreigner is something you need to get used to.   For example, people looking at you and wondering where your accent is from, just trying to decipher.  You also get used to identifying when somebody is not listening to what you are saying. So nowadays, when I meet a new person or present at audiences for work, I immediately flaunt that I am from Venezuela… It is my way of saying,  “Let’s get back to the subject!” In fact, I am glad that I get to clarify this now, because in the past, if I was speaking English, it could happen that people would be looking at me and wondering, “What is she saying??”

After leaving Caracas, my first stop was Argentina.  In this beautiful country I learned that we, Latino Americans, are really different, with different cultures and beliefs. I underestimated how different they were, but I found that was what made the experience exciting. Most importantly, I learned that you need to be really open to others perspectives even when they don’t sound familiar. I had definitely left home, but I was up to the challenge…

I was so ready to experience even more change, even if it meant feeling different in another country that after three years in Argentina, I took a year off and traveled around the world! Never giving up on celebrating my differences and being open-minded about the road ahead will sum up a year filled up with true joy across continents.

However, the big “road ahead” came when I moved to Europe and I needed to work for a Swiss company where I would have to speak English as my primary language. Moving to Switzerland stretched my change abilities to the maximum.  Let’s just say I realized there that the English I learned at High school and College that I thought was good, was instead not something to brag about. Until this day, I ask myself, “How is it that I got a Global Marketing Strategy Manager role?”  But of course, just like any job nowhere you live, I had to make it work and be good at it, no matter my language challenges and how people might be viewing me since I was a foreigner.   I remember been in meetings, having a great idea or suggestion in mind, but by the time I was ready to express myself, the meeting had moved on to another subject… very disappointing and frustrating… listening to my voice mails was another ordeal.  “Why couldn’t people say their phone number extremely slowly so I could get it without rewinding 4 or 5 times?”

While in Switzerland still, I had a boss from the UK.  She looked at me one day and said, “You have a great background, but I don’t want people to say in the corridor, there goes the Spanish lady we can’t understand!”  So, she sent me to RADA – The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the UK for an intensive business presentation training and tough me to think in bullet points… 1, 2 and 3… Needless to say, I still remember her with warm appreciation, as I still was the “Spanish-speaking lady” I was proud to be, but now with the ability to communicate comfortably in a language not native to me.

Then I moved to New Jersey, USA.  There, there were no French, German or Italian English accents.   Everyone sounded the same!   It was time to take my communication abilities to another level. I dealt with the fact that at work and beyond, people will doubt my thinking abilities because of my language skills.   I still get that once in a while.  But, after 8 years in the U.S., and now living in Fort Worth, Texas, I finally feel like a native….American! Of course, with an accent!  So, I will always be different, I am proud of that, and so I focus on showing who I am to the people I meet at work and outside of it, and not what I sound like. I emphasize my strengthens, in the personal side by impacting people in a positive way and in the business by proactively looking for innovative ways to achieve results.

Having the opportunity to adapt to change, I haven’t lost track of who I am and always choosing the positive side of life has allowed me to have a beautiful family, a successful career and great friends all around the world.  Who knows where I will live next, as I also chose a husband that likes the international path, but what I do know is that life will happen for me, I will celebrate it and embrace any  new road ahead, no matter what I sound like!

Throughout my years moving around the globe, a constant in my life has been to make long lasting friendships, not hundreds of friends, but a group of good friends. My good friends have something in common, they all embrace and celebrate differences and are not afraid to flaunt them!

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